India's minority Christian and Muslim populations should be forcibly sterilized to prevent them reproducing, according to a Hindu nationalist politician.
The vice-president of the All India Hindu Mahasabha party, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, was filmed saying that "the population of Muslims and Christians is growing day by day". She called for the imposition of a state of emergency, saying: "Muslims and Christians will have to be forced to undergo sterilization so that they cannot increase their number."
She also exhorted Hindus to "have more children and increase their population", adding that "idols of Hindu gods and goddesses should be placed in mosques and churches".
Her comments raise the spectre of the Emergency declared under the regime of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975-77, during which her political opponents were imprisoned and a mass sterilization campaign aimed at controlling the growth in India's population was carried out. While many responded to incentives offered by the government, others were coerced.
The statement has caused widespread outrage in India. A statement from the Global Council of Indian Christians to the Fides news agency called for Thakur's arrest for "sedition and xenophobia", adding: "The statements are an insult to secular India and also to religious freedom in the nation. These attacks on minorities are anti-constitutional. We ask the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, to intervene and ensure the safety of all citizens and all the communities that make up the Indian society."
The Modi government, elected on a Hindu nationalist platform by an electoral eager to see an end to corruption and attracted by Modi's reputation for competence, has struggled to restrain extremists targeting minorities for 'reconversion' and promoting a religiously-exclusive agenda.
The All India Hindu Mahasabha regards Islam and Christianity as foreign religions and opposes what it sees as the Westernization of India. It promotes the same 'Hindutva' nationalist ideology as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.